This letter was written by Pvt. Thomas M. Nickel of Co. B, 5th Independent Battalion Ohio Volunteer Cavalry. This regiment was organized for only 6 months for duty beginning at the time of Morgan’s Raid on the southern border of Ohio until August 1863; they completed their organization at Camp Chase and moved to Cincinnati on 8 September 1863. They were assigned duty in the District of Eastern Kentucky engaged in scouting and raiding guerrillas until February 1864. They skirmished in Morgan county, Kentucky on 6 Otober 1863 adn at Liberty, Kentucky, on 12 October, 1863. They mustered out on 15 February 1864, losing one man killed and two men dying of disease.
Thomas wrote the letter to his friend, Henry C. Scofield (1836-1883), the son of Barzilla Schofield (1804-Bef1850) and Lydia Parish (1807-1870) of Cattaraugus county, New York. In the 1855 New York Census, Henry was enumerated in the household of his uncle, Amos Schofield (1809-1869) of Allegany, Cattaraugus county, New York.
[Note: This letter is from the personal collection of Greg Herr and was transcribed and published on Spared & Shared by express consent.]
Fleming county, Kentucky
October 3rd 1863
I received your letter day before yesterday and was glad to hear from home again. I thought you had not intended to write to me at all, as your letter of the 24th September was the first I got since we left camp Tod [in Cleveland]. You desired me to tell you how politics are in the army. Of this, I know very little. I have not heard [John] Brough’s or [Clement] Vallandigham’s name mentioned as much as once a week all the time I have been in camp except on the trip from Columbus down to Cincinnati. I believe, however, that there is not one Vallandighammer in our Batt[alion]. There is none that I know of. How it is in other parts of the army, I have no means of knowing except in the featherbed regiment at Camp Chase and the 10th Kentucky who are pretty generally down on Vallandigham.
We don’t think much about politics in our camp. If we can dodge standing picket, get somebody to lead our horse to water so we don’t get dusty, and have plenty to eat, we are quite content. We have so few men here that when some go on a scout, the others have to go on guard every other night. We have picket and horse guard. The horse guards have to attend to the horses, see that none get loose and run away, or that none are stolen. I prefer going on picket and then I have no horse but my own to attend to and I have no bother getting my preferences for there are a great many who have a peculiar dislike to going far from camp at night.
I was on picket both last night and night before. I was detailed night before last. Last night I went voluntarily because the rest of my mess went. I had to stand half of each night. Night before last was a very bad night. It rained and blowed very hard and the dust on the road got very muddy. Last night was a tolerably pleasant night to be out except that it was rather cool toward morning. I do not consider it near so dangerous on picket as some of the boys do. Some always hear somebody in the woods, or hear him whistle his countersign, and some fool will occasionally feel sure he sees a fellow and fire away. But we have got so used to that that we do not get much excited as we did at first.
I have never been bothered by any enemy yet, nor been fool enough to alarm the camp, but it does make a fellow’s heart beat a little quicker than usual to hear others approach him as he stands all alone in the dark. But I must reflect too much on the hard part of camp life for fear it makes you uneasy and me afraid. Now for something a little more pleasant.
We have (thanks to Plumner’s plank) got our camp fixed very comfortable. We are not crammed in tents or barracks, but a few fellows get together and make a shanty to suit themselves. Marshall [Harvey], [James M.] McKitrick, and I bunk together now. [William P.] Furgeson and old John [C.] Beymer stay in the same shanty with us. Bob Stewart and Newt Anderson have one of their own. We [get] plenty to eat and very good too. I think our mess lives better than half of the families in Guernsey county. We swap our extra rations for country produce and if we have no rations, we get them the other way.
The health of the Batt[alion] is good now. A few are in the hospital and about forty have the itch. 1 Ferguson is very bad with it. I have not got it yet and faith, I don’t want it.
I was glad to hear of the great Mass Meeting at Cambridge [Ohio] being such a splendid one. I was very glad to hear of the good circumstance of so many of the fellows—McLeeper and Joe, for instance, and the two dear Davis. I hope they will keep up the steam, all do the best they can, and don’t fail to let me know of the grand movements of the country. Tell Davy if he don’t want to write to me, he need not do it. If he don’t, I don’t care. If he can’t write a letter, he ought not to be teaching school. I have wrote to him twice without any answer—a thing which Marget Beal never did.
You never sent word whether you got my clothes or not. I don’t know as I will write so often in the future as I have been doing. I think we will remain here for some time and I don’t think there is much danger here. At Mount Sterling, sixty miles from here, the rebels took fifteen of our pickets prisoners and after they gave up their arms, stood them in a rank and shot them. That’s the way they use prisoners. 2
When you write, tell me if Mr. Criswell is got well as his son [William H. Criswell] here would like to know how he is. Direct your letters as I said in the last one I wrote. Having nothing more to say, I will wind up by wishing good luck to Till in her endeavors to take off Butternuts.
— T. M. Nickel
1 The “itch” might have been scabies. See “army itch.”
2 I could not find an incident taking place just prior to Thomas’s arrival in Kentucky at or near Mount Sterling. It might date date to events at Mount Sterling in mid-June 1863 during which time it was alleged that prisoners were shot. See excerpt from article appearing in the New York Herald on 19 June 1863.